LATE-NIGHT BURGERS COMING TO RED BANK

Jr.’s owner Mike DeSimone put together a group of investors to buy the yellow building in the background so he could expand his West End-based hamburger business there. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

It may have one of the ugliest facades in Red Bank. But when Mike DeSimone looked at 17 West Front Street, he saw this:

• A bustling corner with an Urban Outfitters right next door.

• Four bars within a couple of hundred feet disgorging revelers who just might want a gourmet-quality burger to cap off the night.

• A nearby hospital with hundreds of employees working around the clock.

• A northern beachhead for his highly successful Jr’s West End, the Long Branch late-night restaurant he launched five years ago.

In fact, DeSimone liked the location so much that he persuaded a group of friends to buy the former home of Zuleyka’s Kitchen so his business could lease out the ground floor space.

He even plans to live upstairs.

Lucki Clover women’s clothing is about two weeks from opening at 20 Broad Street, Retail Churn has learned. (Click to enlarge)

“I liked the location enough to say, ‘I want to do business here,'” he tells redbankgreen. “I couldn’t afford to buy it myself, so I’ll be a tenant.”

Spared by a devastating fire that destroyed much of its block in the West End section of Long Branch earlier this month, Jr.’s thrives on a demographic mix of Monmouth University students, bar patrons, hospital workers and, in summer, beachgoers, DeSimone says.

Except for the beach, it’s not all that different in Red Bank, he says. As in West End, the Red Bank store will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. He’s just filed paperwork with the borough planning and zoning office and doesn’t yet have an estimated opening date, but he hopes to start cooking by the start of summer.

The Jr.’s menu includes a wide range of burgers, wraps and salads, anchored by fresh-sirloin burgers cooked-to-order, DeSimone says. “We’re using the same ingredients you would pay $20 for in a [linen-tablecloth] restaurant,” he says.

He’ll launch the store offering “the staple items” from the existing menu and add more as the business becomes established, he says.

Jr.’s delivers to a wide area. Red Bank, in fact, is the northern limit of the West End store’s delivery range, and so the new place will enable DeSimone to capture the rest of the northeast corner of Monmouth County, he says.

Here’s a quick bio: 35 years old, DeSimone comes from a family of restaurateurs in New York City. He and a friend started a 36-seat Italian restaurant on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, but the cutthroat environment wasn’t to his liking. So after two years, he headed south to Long Branch.

And what about the existing competition in Red Bank, not to mention Boardwalk Burgers & Fries, a chain that’s planning to open at 20 Broad Street? DeSimone says he’s heard the grousing that too many merchants come to town without having done their homework. He’s done his, he says.

“I’m ready for it,” he says of the market. “I think my food speaks for itself.”

Oh, and he plans to brighten up the facade, he says.

In other Retail Churn news:

• The long-awaited reopening of Zebu Forno may occur as soon as Thursday after a relocation to 12 Broad Street last year.

• Lucki Clover, a women’s clothing store, expects to open in two weeks in half of the space formerly held by Zebu, at 20 Broad. The store is the same one described in this earlier edition of Retail Churn, but with a new name.

(Boardwalk Burgers is taking the other half, but doesn’t appear to have done much if any work yet there.)

• The Glam Bars is shooting for a March 17 soft open. Elio Ventrella’s salon, at 116 Broad Street, next door to Red Bank Catholic High, offers blow-out hair styling, cosmetics application, clothing and more, but no cuts.

• A sign in the window at the long-vacant former home of Chic Optique, at 65 Broad, says a health food store is coming, supporting our earlier report, but we’re still awaiting details.